Punk rock purists alerted, Big Ups have returned with a record that recalls plenty of classic punk. Sure, there’s some Black Flag in there, there’s Fugazi, Nirvana and a smattering of Slint to mix the formula up. But Big Ups aren’t just replicating what plenty of bands have done before because they have the advantage of cleaner production and some of the bloodiest punk around. With their debut, they established that they could make good punk, but Before A Million Universes attempts to explore new genres. Slint is a big influence clearly, where vocalist Joe Galarraga transitions from spoken word whispers to full-throttle screams. The wordless ‘Negative (Intro)’ is a beautiful instrumental that segues into the noisy ‘Negative’ without much of a pause. They make it look so easy, and now that they’ve mastered noise they can master the much more subtle quiet. Because everyone knows the quieter it gets, the bigger the incoming storm. The more Galarraga whispers, the more the guitars wonkily jitter around, just fidgeting to explode on tracks like ‘Capitalized’ and ‘Feathers of Yes’. The whole band wants to just make noise, but the longer they contain themselves, the better the impact when it actually happens.
Prior to this release, we thought that Big Ups might have more room to expand if they have themselves a few extra minutes and that’s exactly what they’ve done. Whether that’s an intro – ‘Negative (Intro)’ or the lengthier cuts – ‘Knight’, ‘Meet Where We Are’ and ‘So Much You’ which beckons another Slint comparison for its creepy quietness from the get-go instead of jumping into another punk bruiser. Galaragga’s voice doesn’t raise itself above a low monotone, which can often have more of an impact than his well-established scream. He speak/sings ‘I haven’t been with myself at all’ and ‘Dreamt that I had cancer / But I didn’t care at all’, contributing to the skin-crawling creepiness of the lurching bass and drums and the muted guitars. Then, as if Steve Albini has just possessed them, they break into an unholy wall of noise and Galaragga screams ‘Confusion’ over and over again. The next song, ‘Proximity Effect’, begins like Sonic Youth’s ‘Silver Rocket’ until they cover it in Novoselic-bass and Brendan Finn, drummer, turns into a hardcore powerhouse.
Big Ups have the ability to make Parquet Courts’ societal anxieties look like a walk in the park
The lyrics have have a major style change since Eighteen Hours Of Static. Whereas before, Galaragga spoke about the problems of modern society, here he’s more interested in more ambiguous lyricism like on ‘National Parks’, a character study of a woman walking through a park, where he can open up about his anxieties through other characters. He’s more indebted to songwriters such as Brian McMahan of Slint, whose lengthy epics such as ‘Washer’ and its caged-animal pressure-and-release plays into both the lyrical style and instrumentation of Before A Million Universes. ‘Feathers Of Yes’, where the band interchanges between bursts of noise and muted muffles is Bleach-Nirvana, hardcore-ised. Galaragga sings ‘Cover myself with the feathers of yes’ in the limping shuffle in the last half of the song, but ‘Built myself in a labyrinth where I’m meant to be lost / There’s nothing quite as comfortable as my idea of thoughts’ is the best lyric by far, in a character who hides themselves away from the world, staying inside and afraid of the outside. Big Ups have the ability to make Parquet Courts’ societal anxieties look like a walk in the park.
Instead of repeating the punk of Eighteen Hours Of Static, Big Ups have instantly diversified by incorporating every sound that they should have in their arsenal – ambient mini-post-rock, little jams and the alternative rock sound of the late 80s and early 90s. The comparisons are easy, but Galaragga’s presence and new keen eye for characters is something that the band can explore at length unlike standard punk, which they all but mastered on their first album. There was a huge chance that Big Ups could repeat themselves, but the strong lead singles suggested otherwise and the album lives up to that.
Funnel Recommends: Meet Where We Are / Knight / National Parks